The programs that Latew, along with Linton Springs' teachers and students have created for the monarch butterfly garden illustrate the degree of research and science involved.
Students will plant four different kinds of milkweed and conduct periodic egg and larva counts to see if the monarchs prefer any particular milkweed strain as hosts for their eggs. They have also partnered with universities in Minnesota, Kansas and Georgia to gather additional data on various aspects of the monarchs' life cycle and the diseases that threaten them. Students are also planting a nectaring garden containing plants the attract monarchs. Others are building wire butterfly sculptures to decorate the garden.
As an added benefit, vegetables raised in the school's garden are sometimes donated to local food kitchens. Students also have used the gardens for various math exercises and to compare and contrast growing methods. They will also use the solar gardens to conduct experiments with modern solar technology.
Haerbig and Latew, a Woodbine resident whose daughter is in the fifth grade at Linton Springs, trace the school's strong commitment to ecology and earth sciences back to 2001. That's when Pam Sherfey, then a teacher at the school, began initiating a wide range of eco-awareness programs, including a rain garden, wetlands restoration, bluebird boxes and recycling initiatives.
Largely as a result of Sherfey's efforts, Linton Springs Elementary earned "Green School" certification in 2007.
In 2009, an after-school program called the Green Team was launched when some of Haerbig's students came to her with their concerns about the environment, wondering what they could do to help it out.
Haerbig admits she didn't take their inquiries too seriously at first. "But I was surprised when they came back to me with a proposal for a student club," she added.
"The Green Team used to be just an after-school program," Latew added. "But the teachers and parents bought into it, and it's grown into what we have now — the Linton Environmental Education Program."
In 2012 the school's Green Team was awarded the Carroll County Environmental Advisory Board's Environmental Awareness Award in recognition of its contributions.
Students, teachers and volunteers at the school have also been resourceful in financing the environmental education program and its outdoor classrooms by securing grants from the Carroll County Education Foundation and elsewhere (based on proposals written by the students themselves). There have also organized numerous in-school fundraisers, including a penny drive that, supplemented with a matching grant from an anonymous donor, raised $1,000.
This spring, the Green Team has nearly 50 members.
"We couldn't accept all the students who applied," Latew said.
"They (the students) don't just come out here and have fun," added the Master Gardener, who often spends 40 unpaid hours a week at the school.
"What we do out here has to make all kinds of connections to their core curricula," she added. "The teachers here have really been good sports. They've also tried hard to make all this work."